Watching French Ring Sport

By Chris Redenbach and Lesli Taylor

Welcome to French Ring Sport, the most exciting dog sport to reach America. You'll see awesome jumping, complex obedience, and a hair-raising duel of speed, courage and wits between decoy and dog.

This sport has been evolving into its present form in France for just about one century. Introduced to North America in 1986, it has been attracting a great deal of interest in the sport dog community. There are an ever-growing number of trials giving clubs. The North American Ring sport Association (N.A.R.A.) is the governing organization and maintains a liaison with the parent French organization which operates under the auspices of the S.C.C. (Societe Centrale Canine), the French equivalent of the AKC. Titles earned here are recognized internationally. Recognized trials are now offered in several countries, including Mexico, Canada and other places.

TITLES

Titles to be earned are Brevet, Ring I, Ring 2, Ring 3.

The Brevet must be passed in order to go on to Ring I. Once this "entry test" title is earned, the same dog may not compete for it again. This brief, 15 minute test is very difficult to pass. The entrant must earn 80 of the 100 available points including 80% of the available points for each of the 30-point protection exercises.

Ring I, II and III are progressively more difficult both in the number and complexity of the exercises as well as the intensity of the opposition to the dog presented by the decoy. To progress from Ring I to Ring II, the dog must twice earn scores of 160 or better out of 200, trialing under two different judges and two different decoys. To progress from Ring II to Ring III, the dog must again attain two qualifying scores--this time 240 points out of 300 with different judges and decoys.

Each year in June there is a Championship trial in France called "Coupe de France". Approximately 25 dogs are invited to compete based upon their scores in three highly competitive selective trials for their region. To compete in the selectives, they have to have passed with a certain score in 7 different pre-selective trials under different judges and decoys. Two awards are given to the dogs at the end of the "Coupe": Champion of France in Ring is given to the dog that has the highest score totaling the scores of the selectives and the "Coupe"; the other is winner of the "Coupe." The competition is exceedingly demanding when you consider that France has over 700 ring sport clubs and over 2,000 dogs start the trial year hoping to make it to the championships.

In North America, there are two annual championships, one held by NARA, the North American Ring Association and the other by the CRA, the Canadian Ring Association.

THE PLAYERS

On the field you will see what looks like a crowd. The decoy, dog and handler are the easiest to recognize. There is also, of course, the judge, whom you can recognize because he's the one who blows a horn to signal the beginning and end of exercises. He may have with him the trial secretary, or the secretary may sit at the judge's table. In this country you may also see a translator with the judge. Close to the handler you will see a person called the deputy judge, whose job it is to take the handler from the location of one exercise to the spot to begin the next. This person also carries the handlers' collar and leash, and muzzle as well as reporting to the judge any attempts to cheat with signals or double commands, etc.

At varying times you may also see people adjusting the jumps, tossing food to the dog on the food refusal exercise, someone loading the gun for the decoy, and sometimes an apprentice judge or deputy judge.

THE GAME

While the exercises in the Brevet always come in the same order, after that the order changes according to a draw before the competition, with a few notable exceptions. The jumps always come first and the competitor can choose the order in which the jumps will be performed.

The obedience follows immediately after the jumps, and the order of the exercises is drawn ahead of time. Directly after the obedience with no pause comes the protection, the order of which has also been chosen by lot. At the Ring III level, the dog and handler perform for about 45 minutes with no break, except perhaps drink of water for the dog.

JUDGING

the judge scores according to very precise rules for point deductions, all of which must be justified in writing on the competitors' score sheets. His decisions are assisted by any information he receives from the decoy regarding the number of extra bites a dog gives after an out command, as well as information from the deputy judge regarding handling irregularities.

JUMPS

Sometimes you will see a competitor attempt a particular jump up to three times. He may do this if the dog refuses or misses, or he may do it when the dog is successful so that he can earn more points with a higher or longer jump. The minimum size on the hurdle is .9 meters with the maximum height being 1.2 meters. Minimum length on the long jump is a remarkable 3 meters or 9.75 feet up to a maximum of 4.5 meters or 14.62'. The minimum height on the palisade, or vertical wall, is 1.7m or 5.5'. The maximum is 7.5 feet.

The bigger the jump, the more points can be earned on it.

OBEDIENCE

Ring sport obedience can appear deceptively simple because it does not demand the rigorous style of Schutzhund or top level AKC competition. This is because it is very goal oriented rather than style conscious. One tightening of the leash -- whether it is for forging or lagging--and a score of zero is given for heeling. One piece of food eaten, or even picked up, touched or licked on the food refusal exercise and the score is zero--out of a possible 10 or 20 points depending upon the level of competition.

PROTECTION

The protection phase is divided into attacks and exercises. The scoring is based on elements of the dog's control and the efficiency and "solidness" of the dog's bitework against a decoy who is trying to make the dog lose as may points as possible.

DECOY WORK

The French Ring Sport trial decoy must pass a rigorous selection test once every four years. This test proves his knowledge of the rules, his physical fitness and speed, his ability to effectively oppose the dog at the appropriate level. The trial decoy is an athlete in competition against the dog. He will try to make the dog show any conceivable weakness in nerves, courage, stamina, bite technique, training or control in order to make him lose as many points as possible. No trial decoy will help a dog in any way. If he is also a training decoy, he will help the dog in training, but never in trial. The only constraints put on his opposition to the dog are the rigid rules against physical brutality of any sort, the rules of each attack and exercise, the level of competition of the dog (Brevet through 3), and his own abilities.

ATTACKS

The attacks in Ring III are the face attack (decoy facing dog), the fleeing attack, the attack with revolver and guard, and the stopped attack.

In the FACE ATTACK the handler commands the dog to "stay" behind the line of departure. The decoy, beginning about 10 yards from the dog, threatens the dog, hoping to make him break his stay. He then runs downfield of the dog to 30 to 50 yards, where he turns and agitates again. Upon hearing the judge's horn, the handler sends his dog. The decoy agitates the whole while, attempting to frighten or slow the down the dog. He may then attempt to side step the dog to make him miss his entry or he may create a fast and threatening " barrage " with the noisy, split bamboo stick, hoping to hold the dog off. When the dog bites, the decoy fights him, trying to intimidate him into quitting, losing his bite or getting so angry that he won't let go on command. After 15 seconds, the judge signals the handler to out and recall his dog. The decoy freezes AFTER the "out" command or whistle. The dog has 30 seconds to return to his owner. The only exception to this is the face attack in Brevet, when the handler has an option of having his dog out and guard.

The STOPPED ATTACK is performed the same as the Face Attack except that the decoy now wants to make the dog bite and may step toward the dog instead of trying to get away or intimidate. The handler tries to call the dog back as close to the decoy as possible to earn maximum points. The intriguing thing about the stopped attack is that it is only scored after the scoring of the face attack. This prevents weak dogs that would rather stop than bite from getting full points.

The FLEEING ATTACK is done with the same procedure as the face and stopped attacks except that the decoy runs away and tries to escape the dog as much as possible.

The REVOLVER ATTACK is begun like the face attack, but the decoy has a gun instead of a stick. The decoy runs to 40 meters and awaits the dog. He must fire the two shots before the dog bites, once at 12 meters and again at 7 meters. After a 15 second fight, the handler tells the dog to out and guard. The judge will indicate that the decoy should escape, the dog bites to control the escape (losing 1 point for every meter the decoy escapes), the handler outs the dog for another guard and escape. Then the judge indicates that the handler should go to disarm the decoy, after which he tells his dog to heel away with him.

EXERCISES

The exercises include the defense of handler, the search and bark with escort, and the guard of object. The DEFENSE OF HANDLER requires that the decoy approach from one end of the field, the dog and handler from the other; they meet, shake hands and converse, say "good-bye", pass each other, then the decoy sneaks up behind the handler to aggress him. The dog is permitted to bite at the moment of the aggression. He fights for 10 seconds, is called out, he guards automatically, and then is recalled. In the Brevet only, the decoy shoots a handgun two times when the dog bites.

The SEARCH AND BARK begins with the handler and the dog off the field while the decoy hides in any one of up to 7 blinds, according to the judge's directions. The dog and handler return to the field where the dog is commanded to search and bark. The search is free style with a time limit of 2, 2.5 or 3 minutes depending upon the size of the field. When he locates the decoy, the dog must bark, but not bite until the decoy escapes, shooting his gun. After the dog controls the first escape, and is called out, the decoy escapes and shoots again. After the dog controls this second escape, the handler will come to disarm the decoy. Then, leaving the dog to guard the decoy, the handler goes about 3 meters behind the decoy to begin the escort. During the escort, the dog stays with the decoy to control the 2 to 3 escapes the decoy will attempt. For every step (1 meter) the decoy can escape without being "well in grasp", the dog loses points.

Probably the best-known Ring exercise is the GUARD OF OBJECT. Here the handler leaves his dog alone with a large basket to guard from the decoy's attempts to steal it. The dog must stay with the object and only bite the decoy when the decoy comes within one meter of the object. When the decoy is bitten, he pauses as still as possible, for 5 seconds, after which he tries to go away from the object. The dog must automatically let go his bite within one meter and return to the object.

This is the most advanced, complex and difficult exercise to teach the dog. It requires so much self control from the dog, yet at the same time so much drive to bite. The balance in training is supremely difficult to achieve, especially considering that the decoy is watching for any weak spots in the training, any slight lapses of vigilance, hesitations in the dog's decision making, etc., in order to steal the object.

From the decoy's point of view it is a real test of his skills...his ability to read the dog, his knowledge of training techniques, his speed, his subtlety. It would be easier for him if he simply were allowed to try to lure the dog away from the object by begging to be bitten, but he is not permitted to do that. He must honestly try to take the object, either with his hand or his foot.

You don't "fail" at Ring III, you receive either an Excellent, Very Good, Good or other rating. However to call your dog a Ring III dog, you must score at least 320 out of 400 possible points. If you score less then 240 two times in one year then you must go back to Ring II and re-qualify before you can move up to Ring III again.

I hope that this synopsis of French Ring Sport will help you enjoy the trial and appreciate the balanced temperaments and skilled training of the dogs as well as the tactical and athletic work of the decoys.

Reprinted with permission by Chris Redenbach and Lesli Taylor 6/28/2000
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